No answer? No problem. On to the next.
It used to be that a guy you were dating maybe just fell off the face of the planet. But the new version of that snub is something of a phenomenon called “ghosting”—it’s heavily-fueled by technology and is when someone abruptly cuts off the relationship or simply stops responding to you.
And since so much face-to-face interaction has been replaced by our smartphones, it’s easier than ever for so-called ghosts to act like you don’t exist.
It’s not just boyfriends who seem to disappear into thin air, either; friendships can die this way too. So we spoke to relationship experts about why these breakups can be so haunting—and got tips on how to heal.
1. Stay off social media.
Nothing salts a wound like watching an ex vacation with his new girlfriend through the flattering filter of Instagram or reading Facebook posts from the friend who won’t return your texts.
“Don’t turn into a sleuth or stalker,” advises Dr. Irene Levine, a psychiatry professor at NYU Langone School of Medicine. “Being nonresponsive speaks volumes about the other person’s interest. Obsessively following that individual will only make you feel worse about yourself.”
It may be tempting to binge on his Twitter feed in an effort to feel closer to him, find clues on why he bailed, or simply satisfy your curiosity…but you’ll likely end up lonelier, with an epic emotional hangover.
2. Don't demand an explanation.
The sad truth is you may never know why that cute guy stopped calling after an awesome third date, or why your best friend from college won’t respond to your attempts to make plans. Accept it and don’t force a confrontation.
“It’s a lot worse to not know why someone doesn’t want to be with you than any of the reasons that it could be,” says Wendy Paris, author of the forthcoming book Splitopia. “The not knowing is what makes this an advanced placement recuperation challenge.”
But instead of wondering what you did wrong (or what is wrong with you), psychologist Dr. Randi Gunther says “the real question is: why would you invest in a relationship with someone who is mysterious, unaccountable, and too chicken to tell the truth?” Even if you do get your “ghost” to give you a reason, “explanations are highly likely to be lies or defensive maneuvers,” says Gunther.
“Don’t blame yourself,” Levine says of if you never get your answer. “Entertain the possibility that the decision to leave had more to do with the other person than it did with you. Sometimes people fail to communicate because they are harboring a secret, or they are fearful of the repercussions that might occur if they shared the reasons for the breakup.”
Before you let your imagination run wild and your self-esteem nosedive, consider that “It’s not you, it’s me” could actually be true.
3. Learn from the experience.
Don’t kick yourself while you’re down or “make the mistake of thinking that the relationship was a total waste of time,” says Levine. “You shared good memories and hopefully grew from it. It’s prepared you for the next chapter of your life.”
Being ghosted actually provides useful information—if you know how to look for it.
“Did you choose the wrong type of person? Not recognize signs that something was awry? Try to make something work that wasn’t viable from the start? Did you both grow in different directions?” Then empower yourself by taking action: Look for those cues in your future relationships and use this heartbreak to change the way you end them. “What you can do is not reject somebody in this way,” says Paris. “That is something you can control.”
4. Take care of yourself.
When a romance or friendship ends, “not only will there be a hole in your heart, but also gaps in your schedule,” says Levine.
Fill them with positive activities and people: Try a new type of workout, take a class in a subject that’s always interested you, nurture your existing—or brand-new!—friendships. Eat well. Get out in nature. Get enough sleep.
“Anything that is self-supportive and increases your sense of your own efficacy is a great idea,” says Paris. Embrace distractions—and relish happy moments.
5. Stop talking about it.
“It’s natural to feel a sense of pain and loss when someone who was meaningful to you disappears,” says Levine. “The closer you were, the longer it will take you to recover.”
But while venting about your confusion and anger to friends and family can help, so can not talking about it. “Don’t keep ruminating about what happened,” says Levine. “People will grow tired of hearing the same story—and repeating it continually won’t allow you to heal.”
And while it’s never wise to bury the more serious feelings (like severe depression), try to do your best to discuss something—anything—else.
“Don’t make the mistake of thinking that closure takes two,” says Levine. “It’s something you can achieve on your own.” You don’t need that ghost to get there.